Data shows deadliest year since 2007 for Michigan drivers

DETROIT (AP) - Preliminary state statistics show that 2016 was the deadliest year since 2007 for drivers in Michigan.

At least 1,021 people were killed in Michigan vehicle accidents last year, The Detroit Free Press reported. The number of total crashes was 301,525.

Ann Readett with the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning said the number could increase as more reports come in. She noted that the number could also decrease if a cause of death is determined to be a medical problem unrelated to the crash.

The number of traffic fatalities in Michigan dipped to a record low of 817 in 2009 but began gradually increasing by about 15 percent in the six years that followed, according to Michigan State Police data. In 2007, there were 1,084 traffic fatalities in the state.

Experts say the recent increase in road deaths could be due to an improving economy, lower gas prices and possible increased texting and driving.

Carol Flannagan, a University of Michigan researcher, said the Great Recession's uptick in unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies caused a national decline in the number of younger, riskier drivers, particularly in rural areas.

National traffic-crash data shows a 21 percent decline in U.S. traffic fatalities between 2007 and 2011.

Drivers younger than 25, known as a particularly risky demographic on the roads, are shown to drive more during better economic times, Flannagan said.

"When the economy gets better, those people have jobs, buy gas and drive for reasons not specifically (for) getting to a job," she said.

Research from the National Safety Council indicates that texting on a smartphone while driving is also a factor causing a rise in traffic fatalities. The percentage of drivers texting or otherwise using handheld devices increased from 0.9% in 2010 to 2.2% in 2014. That rate increases to 4.8 percent for drivers between ages 16 and 24.

Flannagan said texting while driving is a "very high-risk activity" but that there isn't good data on how often it causes fatal traffic accidents.

Published: Thu, Jan 26, 2017